East Bayfront LRT Update

Last night, the East Bayfront project held its second public meeting to review the technical evaluation of alternatives for this project.  The presentation is available at Waterfront Toronto (scroll down to the bottom).

First a few comments about the presentation, then later on comments from the audience.

Coming into this process, various technologies had been proposed to serve East Bayfront including:

  • LRT
  • Bus:  Diesel, Hybrid Diesel, Fuel Cell or Trolley
  • A shuttle or moving sidewalk between Queen’s Quay and Union Station

It’s important to understand the motivation behind many of the alternatives that have come forward.  The existing portal on Queen’s Quay west of Bay Street is loathed by many in the neighbourhood.  They dislike its architecture (TTC brutal) and the effect that this void has on the surrounding street in comparison with other nearby areas.  I’m not quite so vociferous on the subject, but understand their point of view especially in the context of pending streetscape changes on Queen’s Quay itself. 

The thought of a second portal to serve the East Bayfront is quite beyond the pale, and nobody is happy to see it near their building or block.  I will come back to the portal in a bit, but first the technology options.

A shuttle of any kind allows the elimination of any portal because the Queen’s Quay services would now run through east-west and the existing portal would be closed.  However, this would impose a transfer on a huge volume of riders at a notoriously windswept location and would seriously interfere with the idea of attracting people to transit.  Moreover if the shuttle (in the existing Bay Street tunnel) were not working, people would have to walk to Union.  I remember doing this in the bad old days before there was a Harbourfront car, and it ain’t pleasant especially with the traffic lights rigged in favour of east west car traffic and against the pedestrians trying to walk north-south.

So much for the shuttle.

Buses of any flavour would require considerable widening of the existing tunnel at an estimated cost of $40-50-million.  Integration of bus and streetcar operations (the western branch would remain LRT/streetcar) poses an additional challenge, and I don’t want to think about buses running through the ice that accumulates near Queen’s Quay station every winter.  Finally the very close headways needed for the projected demand would not fit in the tunnel or in an expanded Union Station Loop.

So much for buses.

This leaves streetcar/LRT and two design problems at Bay Street.  (Strangely, design issues east of Bay along Queen’s Quay never came up, and of course this is entangled in the Queen’s Quay redesign project.)

First is Union Loop.  Considerable expansion is needed, and I have discussed proposals for this loop here before.  A slightly updated drawing is in the presentation materials.  The operational scheme now is that the east platform would be used to unload and load the eastern services, and the west platform the western services.  Personally, I think this should be reversed as the eastern services will carry more people, eventually, and this service should be placed on the side of the loop closest to connections with Union Station.  However, that’s a decision easily made once the line is actually operating.

Second is the portal location.  Five options remain for detailed evaluation in the next stage of the project:

  • Bay from Lake Shore to Harbour
  • Bay from Harbour to Queen’s Quay
  • Queen’s Quay east of Bay
  • Queen’s Quay east of Yonge
  • Queen’s Quay east of Freeland (between the Toronto Star and the LCBO)

The second option was developed during the last meeting of the smaller Community Liaison Committee in one of those “Eureka” moments, but its benefits were not articulated at last night’s presentation. 

Because Queen’s Quay will change from a four-lane arterial street (even wider east of Bay) to two lanes with an occasional turn lane, the amount of traffic and capacity needed on lower Bay will be considerably reduced.  If the streetcars surface north of Harbour (the street immediately north of Queen’s Quay), then the block to the south can become a transit mall with, at most, limited road capacity northbound on the east side of Bay.

The benefits are:

  • Only one portal is needed and it is sited in a block where it will do less harm to the neighbourhood.
  • The passenger-unfriendly access to Queen’s Quay station is eliminated, and passengers to and from attractions at the foot of Bay (including the Ferry Docks) would have a much easier transfer move.
  • Vertical accessibility issues to and from Queen’s Quay station are eliminated.
  • A transit/pedestrian mall fits in better with the planned design for Queen’s Quay itself.

The downside is:

  • The junction between the east and west streetcar services will be on the surface.  It will be essential that the traffic signals both at Queen’s Quay and at Harbour are set up to favour transit to avoid huge backlogs at these locations.

Some of the attendees argued for complete elimination of the tunnel with all service running up Bay Street and into the financial district.  I do not support this position based on the anticipated volume of riding and the need to provide some sort of terminal facility for cars running every two minutes or better.

Portal locations on Queen’s Quay east of Bay will be, I fear, difficult from a construction point of view due to the nearby Lake Ontario (right at the sidewalk line in some cases), and the further east the portal moves, the more the need for an underground (underwater) station somewhere east of Bay.  The TTC is thinking of this as part of a planned nearby development.

A few major wrinkles remain on East Bayfront.

First is the question of demand and integration with the West Don and Port Lands services planned for Cherry Street.  Much of the demand projected for East Bayfront originates well east of Bay.  If the housing planned for Cherry Street in the Port Lands doesn’t materialize soon, the East Bayfront service will be underutilized.

Second, the proposed Bremner Blvd. approach of the Western Waterfront LRT into the Bay Street tunnel is unlikely to materialize due to problems threading the line through the existing developments.  An alternative approach for the WWLRT is needed, but that is a subject for a separate thread.  [Please don’t post on that subject in this thread.] 

Third, the link between the three parts of the eastern waterfront depends on the redesign of the Parliament/Cherry/Lake Shore/Queen’s Quay roadways.  The recently concluded Lower Don Lands competition includes a design for this junction that can be viewed in miniature.  (A very large PDF is available for those who want the whole thing.)  This design shows an LRT service coming down Cherry and merging with a service from a realigned Queen’s Quay to serve the Lower Don residential area.  One missing element (fairly easy to add) is provision for a service between Queen’s Quay and Cherry that would allow a Broadview Station to Union via Queen’s Quay service, for example.

Future discussions of waterfront transit designs need to integrate this junction so that people see East Bayfront and other projects in the larger context.

The next meeting of the West Donlands CLC is in early July, and I hope to have an update on options for the Cherry Street end of the line at that time.

3 thoughts on “East Bayfront LRT Update

  1. Running the waterfront streetcars up Bay Street’s surface sounds absurd at first mentioning, but if the Gardiner connection to Bay Street is eliminated, and you put the streetcars through the GO Bus terminal, it might be feasable.

    Of course, there are notable problems with this:

    1) the GO Bus terminal is obviously not a TTC fare-paid area, making transfers to HRT less than friendly. Although transfers to GO Trains would be more friendly, I don’t see that as a good trade at all.

    2) GO may not take kindly to the idea of sharing their bus terminal with TTC LRVs, although with the increased railway services in the 2020 announcement, Union’s bus terminal would be seeing significantly less traffic, potentially, GO might have room to spare.

    3) What do you do about running streetcars on Lower Yonge? (it’d be monodirectional, but that doesn’t necessarily make it any simpler). That virtually kills the idea right there, unless you are really desperate to avoid a tunnel.


  2. The shuttle idea brings back memories of the free Harbourfront Centre shuttle buses from Union Station which had a big key on top (to try to get people to pronounce “quay” as “key”). Direct service to Union Station is far better.

    You wonder about demand in the Port Lands; I think it may be a while before they’re a major trip generator. I’ve heard Waterfront Toronto people talk about the “absorption rate” for new housing, so there is a limit to how fast they can build out. But it’s far easier to get the transit design right before Queens Quay East is built up, so even if it’s underused for a while this seems like the right approach to me.


  3. The West Don Lands and East Bayfront Transit EAs clearly need to examine linkages and I look forward to seeing more thought given to the planning of the LRT line at the foot of Cherry Street. At present the plans seem to call for the Cherry Street line to terminate at a loop NORTH of the railway underpass. While the Cherry Street line looks likely to be built before the East BayFront one (no Portal problems, West Don Lands development further ahead etc) it is clear that eventually the two lines will meet and it would surely be better to end the Cherry Street line to the SOUTH of the railway berm where the loop could be planned to serve both the Cherry Steeet Line and the Queen’s Quay East line and, as you say Steve, to create a possible route from Union to Broadview. The extension of an LRT east of Cherry and into the Portlands is FAR further in the future and the Waterfront Corporation talk about 2025 as a possible darte for much development there.


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